By Meghan Christian
Featuring the work of four local artists, Buckham Gallery’s next exhibit, “Magnificent Specimens of Nostalgic Wonder,” opens Friday, Sept. 8 for Art Walk from 6 to 9 p.m.
One of those “magnificent specimens” is the work of Edwin Custer of Flint, longtime East Village Magazine photographer and distributor. He will be displaying his circus parade, which is 70 feet long and made up of 85 individual ceramic pieces.
Each piece, which Custer carefully researches, is in some way inspired by real circus wagons, clowns, and elephants.
“I want to lay a historic base to what I do,” Custer said. He keeps his research organized in a binder that he adds more to and can revisit later. While he is methodical, he said he does not let that keep him from exercising his artistic license.
“Even though I have a historic base, I am not defined by that,” Custer said, noting he adds fantasy elements such as a wagon pulled by unicorns.
The inspiration behind the piece, which Custer has been working on for many years, began partly with his late father, a long-time Shrine Circus clown known as Dapper Dan, and partly with an idea. That idea was that the anticipation leading up to an event is sometimes more rewarding than the event itself.
According to Custer, that prelude, the idea of anticipation, is what the circus parades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries created and what ignited his obsession.
In a 2009 feature about him in East Village Magazine, Custer said, “The circus parade was the culmination of an event—another event really —- the prelude to the circus. I was interested in how much preparation there was —-setting up the big top, that big tent. And then I started thinking how the circus got to town.
For many years, he explained, circuses traveled across the country in trains. When they got to each town, to draw people to the circus, they’d parade down the main street.
“I’m interested in what comes before the circus,” he said in 2009. “The idea of the parade is what absorbs me—what brings people to the event, the part that sets the stage, all the pieces that say, come join us, the laughter, the fun, the promise of the exotic, the anticipation. I think a lot of life is like that really–the anticipation. You can get so many hours of pleasure into working up to something—like Christmas–and then the event is over so quickly”
Custer said he’s taken by “the idea of trying to draw people to some exotic experience they are going to have, so they are creating excitement to bring people forward.”
That excitement and awe is what Custer hopes those attending Art Walk Sept. 8 experience while viewing his piece.
“If people can come away from this show and say, ‘That was different, wow!’ then it will be good,” Custer said.
To create his parade, Custer spends many hours on each piece. While he hasn’t been able to calculate an exact number, it takes roughly 18 hours from the sculpting phase to the glazing phase on a single elephant, he said.
Many of those hours were spent down the street from his home at the Flint Institute of Arts, where he has taken advantage of the facilities and at times, their classes as well. The FIA offers classes for all skill levels in a variety of different art mediums.
According to Custer, the proximity to fine arts in the city is essential — and not only at the FIA. The Flint Institute of Music, the Cultural Center, and the theater are just a few that Custer suggests that people take advantage of.
“That’s a core thing here and I think that’s unique to this community and this area,” Custer said.
The other artists featured in the upcoming show are Pauly Everett, Patricia Constantine, and Erin Elizabeth.
“Magnificent Specimens of Nostalgic Wonder” will be on display at Buckham Gallery (134 1/2 W. 2nd St. from Sept. 8 to Oct. 7 and aside from the opening, will be viewable during normal gallery hours from noon to 5:30 p.m. each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at email@example.com.